On the eve of the European Film Awards in Berlin on December 4, Screen looks at the European films that have triumphed at both the European and global box office in 2011

Home is where the heart is for most of the big European hits this year. Titles such as Dany Boon’s French culture-clash comedy Nothing To Declare (Rien A Déclarer), Gennaro Nunziante’s Italian charmer What A Beautiful Day (Che Bella Giornata), Kokowaah, the latest romantic comedy from German superstar Til Schweiger, and Santiago Segura’s Torrente 4: Lethal Crisis, have all enjoyed stellar performances in their local markets.

All are comedies, and all are very culturally specific. They have all made most of their money in their national markets. The best chance most of them have of finding a sizeable audience beyond their own borders may be to be remade and recalibrated to national tastes.

The exception is Gaumont’s French comedy drama Intouchables, which details the unlikely friendship between a quadriplegic aristocrat and a young man from the Paris projects. It closed the San Sebastian film festival and has sold around the world. It is the highest grossing French film in France this year, garnering $81.4m to date.

It is closely followed by Nothing To Declare, released by Pathé, which stars Boon and Benoit Poelvoorde as rival customs officers on the France-Belgium border. It has grossed $69.2m in France alone.

In Italy, Medusa opened What A Beautiful Day in January to see it become the most successful Italian film of all time, garnering $58.7m (€43.8m) in its home market. The good-humoured, engaging story of a buffoonish security guard at a Milan cathedral who falls in love with a supposed terrorist, was embraced by critics and audiences in need of light relief from the tawdry real-life exploits of Italy’s now-former prime minister. Indeed, What A Beautiful Day has taken nearly double the amount Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has in the territory.

Following his two Rabbit Without Ears (Keinohrhasen and Zweiohrküken) films, Schweiger’s Kokowaah is the latest massive hit for the German writer-director-producer-actor. In this film, he brought his daughter along for the ride to star as the little girl who knocks on his door claiming to be his character’s daughter from a one-night-stand. It has taken the lion’s share of its box office in Germany to gross $40.6m and was second only to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in the country as of October 30.

In Spain, Segura delivered the fourth episode detailing the popular exploits of his titular creation, the crass private detective Jose Luis Torrente. Torrente 4 broke box-office records in its first weekend and has gone on to gross nearly $26.8m for Warner Bros Spain.

It is the highest grossing film in Spain this year to date, ahead of both Harry Potter 8 and Pirates Of The Caribbean 4.

A great deal of the appeal of Torrente 4: Lethal Crisis is down to the cast: an array of popular Spanish figures, from comedians to footballers. Similarly, the star of What A Beautiful Day is renowned TV comedian Checco Zalone, and in the UK and the Netherlands, two of the biggest films of the year are film versions of popular homegrown TV series.

However, few in the UK predicted quite the success of The Inbetweeners Movie, which has grossed $70.5m in its home territory. The story of four hapless but likeable teenagers on a sex and booze-fuelled holiday was released by Entertainment Film Distributors in mid-August, in the middle of the summer holidays.

As the TV series enjoys a cult — but not huge — following, it was the positive word of mouth which propelled the film to within a royal whisker of The King’s Speech in the UK market (that film grossed $71.7m). It is the third-biggest title of the year in its home territory (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the biggest).

Similarly, the Dutch sensation of the year is Gooische Vrouwen (literally, ‘Gooische Women’), a film version of a now-cancelled Dutch TV series. With echoes of both Desperate Housewives and Sex And The City, it follows the lives, loves and friendships of four wealthy women.

Like many of the big local hits this year (except The Inbetweeners Movie and Intouchables), it was released early in 2011 — by Independent Films — before the US blockbusters could get a real toehold in national markets.

Turkey’s growth spurt

The growth of Turkey as a major box-office territory is evident this year. In contrast to Russia, another rapidly increasing market, Turkish audiences are as keen to watch their own films as they are to watch US titles (Russian audiences tend to prefer Hollywood films to their own).

Three Turkish films — UIP’s Eyyvah Eyvah 2 and Love Likes Coincidences (Ask Tesadufleri Sever), with Ozen Film’s Valley Of The Wolves: Palestine (Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin) — have outpaced every US release this year to date to become the highest-grossing films of 2011 in the country. While Eyyvah Eyvah 2 fits the local blockbuster mould — it is a light-hearted romantic comedy — Love Likes Coincidences is a more serious piece, a love story without an easy ending, and Valley Of The Wolves: Palestine (a follow-up to Valley Of The Wolves: Iraq) is an all-out action adventure about a commando unit.

The English-language films in the top 10 chart of European films in Europe this year are global blockbusters produced to transcend their local markets and released with all the might of their heavyweight backers. They are Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (produced by the UK’s Heyday Films, financed by Warner Bros), Johnny English Reborn (produced by Working Title Films and financed by StudioCanal and Universal), the animated Gnomeo & Juliet (produced by Rocket Pictures, distributed by Disney), The Three Musketeers (produced by Jeremy Bolt and Paul WS Anderson’s Impact Pictures, and backed by Constantin), and just outside the top 10, the Berlin-set Liam Neeson action thriller Unknown (backed by Warner Bros and StudioCanal). As of November 27, StudioCanal’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had only opened in the UK. It will be released in further European markets in December and January 2012.

The King’s Speech and Midnight In Paris (the latter financed in part by the French tax break and in the main by Spain’s Imagina) are the two genuine global breakthroughs. Not all UK period dramas strike a chord with audiences but from the moment Tom Hooper’s portrayal of a crisis in the British monarchy on the eve of the Second World War won the audience award at Toronto in September 2010, the film’s network of international distributors knew they had a release that would sing. Similarly, Woody Allen films, even in Europe, are a lottery, no longer guaranteed critical support or a loyal audience. But his love letter to Paris was vintage, funny Allen and is his most successful release in Europe since Vicky Cristina Barcelona and his highest-grossing film ever worldwide.